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Break It Down: Stories

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,136 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
The thirty-four stories in this seminal collection powerfully display what have become Lydia Davis's trademarks—dexterity, brevity, understatement, and surprise. Although the certainty of her prose suggests a world of almost clinical reason and clarity, her characters show us that life, thought, and language are full of disorder. Break It Down is Davis at her best. In the ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published September 16th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1986)
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and now for something different …

Lydia Davis. Born in Massachusetts in 1947, of American parents – dad a professor, mother a writer and teacher. The family lived in Austria for a year when she was seven, Lydia learned German. Later in New York, in a private school, around the age of ten, she learned French. The French grew on her, to the extent that she has translated many French novels into English, including Georges Simenon’s African Trio (1970), Proust’s Swann’s Way (2004), and Flaubert’s Ma
Apr 21, 2011 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book pissed me off a little. It's not that there aren't flashes of greatness in this ultra-short story collection. Because there are, particularly in the title story. But at her very worst, Lydia Davis inundates her readers with terse anecdotes or observations that don't seem to have anything going for them. They aren't linguistically or rhythmically interesting. They don't suggest or allude to some Grand Ineffable Something going on behind the scenes. They aren't affecting. They aren't amu ...more
This is the second collection of "short stories" by Lydia Davis that I've tried, and it will be my last. The other collection, "Samuel Johnson is Indignant" had enough flashes of genuine wit to make it almost tolerable, despite Ms Davis's predilection for microscopically short "stories" (sometimes no more than a sentence long) and a preternaturally detached prose style. The kind of writing that garners raves from the usual suspects - "The best prose stylist in America" (Rick Moody), "one of most ...more
Adam Dalva
Feb 25, 2015 Adam Dalva rated it it was amazing
Disclosure: Lydia was a grad school professor of mine, but I really do love this book. What's great about it - possibly unique - is how the stories revolve around the same central trauma (divorce, loneliness) in a way that feels incredibly personal without connecting in any tangible way. It's therefore not really linked, but it is certainly spoked. The book ebbs and flows in quality, but is always perfect on the line level (sometimes to the fault of being overly systemic. She never omits the "st ...more
I heard the story "Break it Down" on This American Life and had to check this collection out. The title story is so great. I love it. The rest of the stories in the rest of the collection share a similar narrative style, but hardly any of the emotional weight. They read more like clever exercises, but after just a few I realized I didn't particularly care about the people, the story, or the ideas she was playing with. It reads to me as sort of "academic literature," where they kiss the story and ...more
Carrie Lorig
lydia davis punched out every lady author i worshiped before her. so much tougher and aware than didion. none of the light self-pity that is sort entwined in loorie moore's work. it's clean and sad. it's less of a game than her ex-husband's (paul auster) books can be. i feel like lydia davis is peeping in my apartment at night. and that is so much more terrifying than any of the premises and theory of the new york triology. god. she cracked my heart open like a pomegranate, but i enjoyed looking ...more
Jan 26, 2016 Daria rated it it was ok
It's not a pleasant sensation, reading Lydia Davis. She writes well, she's a disciple of the "simplify, simplify" school, but.... I take my words now from the response I wrote to Break it Down for class:

There is much within-ness within Davis' work. It invites the reader to examine herself, and not in the cajoling way that some texts have of encouraging such examination, but an inescapable one that isn't necessarily optimistic or pretty. I sometimes feel as if Davis reveals more about me to mysel
Jan 06, 2014 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
I was bemused by the fact that Lydia Davis, whose translation of Proust's Swann's Way is so excellent, is also likewise a superb writer of short stories. In Break It Down: Stories, some of the stories are very short indeed, often no more than a middling paragraph in length.

What struck me first, however, was the almost complete lack of dialog, it being one of the principles of the modern short story that the reader is drawn to come to his own conclusions by reading what the characters say to one
May 21, 2007 Tao rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Joy Williams, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Lorrie Moore
I like the last story and the first story and some of the other stories.

I like "The Fish."
Kate Fister
Jan 17, 2013 Kate Fister rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give this book five stars if it were just for the title story "Break It Down." The rest paled in comparison to it, which is more a compliment to "Break it Down" than a criticism of the others.

I have been in love with "Break It Down" for five years--it was assigned for a creative writing class I took in college. Every time I read this story, it makes me cry. And that's not something I do easily.

No story better captures the feelings we all experience after breaking up with someone we rea
May 06, 2014 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Certainly inventive. These are stories like no others. They are quick glimpses of life, an individual's thoughts and relationships. They tend to start nowhere in particular, and stop rather than end. Davis shows a wide range in one sense, since the stories range from a hyper-detailed view of everyday life to occasional ventures into the absurd. There is an unusual mix of strong emotions with the utter banality of life for the character who has them.

I liked the creativity and readability of these
Jun 26, 2014 Audrey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A few of these stories stood out as stronger than the others and genuinely interesting. I think this collection and Davis' work was influential in other flash fiction collections and a style of exploring neuroses.

However, I found myself kind of bored after reading a few in a row. Even then, I think the stories I liked would have bumped this up to a three, if not for the fact that Davis was sprinkling in marginalized people as shortcuts for adding flavor/depth in her story
- In the first story,
Apr 12, 2010 Dawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Are you kneeling and putting your hands on the carpet like that. Are you. On the carpet, your hands are on it?
Aug 25, 2015 Delia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I'm being honest I would give this collection of short stories a rating between 4 and 5 stars because, well, not all of the stories were AMAZING. In fact, a few towards the middle of the book were uneventful, and not in the type of way that holds any depth or meaning. They just seemed pointless. BUT...there were a bunch of other stories that walked up to my rib cage, knocked twice, then passed the ivory gates only to settle down in the deepest crevices, crevices that I knew existed but didn't ...more
Lee Foust
I've been reading and worshiping Ms. Davis' translations of Maurice Blanchot since my college days in the 1980s and, weirdly to me, have only just recently discovered that she has been, since about that same time (1986) been working herself to redefine and/or expand the possibilities of the short story form with a series of critically well-received collections. Perfect timing, in a sense, as I am currently writing a novel in frames, a system of linked short narratives and I, too, want to both wr ...more
Mar 31, 2014 Karen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love me some Lydia. This book is a little less controlled, a little messier and more emotionally raw than Varieties of Disturbance (at least the way I remember it), which isn't a bad thing. The only problem with this book, and I guess with any of LD's books, is that the voice continues on in your head, narrating all the minutiae of your boring-ass life.
Rob Findlay
May 15, 2010 Rob Findlay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up for a local Twitter book club, glad I did as this is not normally the kind of stuff I would read.

The writer has a very different voice than most of the 1st person narratives I tend to read so it took some adjusting. That said, her writing style is just incredible

The stories themselves--all rather short--where interesting in different ways. Davis' voice is very insular and cathartic one moment and then stand-offish and stoic the next.

The first short-story, called "Story" interes
Jan 14, 2011 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The structural features of these short stories, their eschewing of New Yorker formalism, hasn't aged particularly well. They aren't bad, they just no longer stand out. Not only have other writers aped it, but bloggers unknowingly echo this informal-narration-as-story approach regularly. Despite this loss of wow factor, Davis is a talented writer and many of these stories drew me in on other merits.

There is an irony that her strongest talent is an ability to seamlessly manipulate time in a story
Daniel Perry
Feb 21, 2014 Daniel Perry rated it really liked it
I didn't love every story in this collection, and I needed to read a couple of warm-up articles about Ms. Davis before I got into the book, but once I acquired the taste, I found the stories to be different than the norm, and more capable of doing more with less than those of a great many minimalist writers.

The stories are collected from independent, small press volumes the author published from 1976 onward, and this collection was a sort of "best of" while still being her "breakout." And while
Feb 10, 2014 Antonia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. . . can't decide. The way these characters muse on their lives is probably very true to life for most of us. But it wasn't exactly enjoyable reading. I best liked the story called "French Lesson I: Le Meurtre." Not much taken with the title story, "Break It Down."

[Update:] Until I heard it read by James Salter on The Guardian Podcast. Now I'm in love with it.
Rebecca Fortes
May 17, 2014 Rebecca Fortes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I read it as part of her complete works. The prose is beautiful and thoughtful despite its word economy. I see many people complaining that some of these aren't "stories"; I would disagree, but I do think that standing alone, some of these stories wouldn't be as impressive as they are in the collection. Characters reappear and so as you make it through the collection, there's a sense of seeing growth (or, sometimes, not seeing it, sadly). I would highly advise that anyone who ...more
Paul Blaney
May 16, 2014 Paul Blaney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lydia Davis expanded the scope of the possible for me as a writer, prompting me to ask the question: What is a story?

This collection, with its stories-meet-essays, stories-meet-epigrams, and other hybrid inspirations, was especially revelatory. It set off dozens of my own experiments and helped me rediscover innovation and playfulness.

None of which is to say that Davis's 'stories' are mere formal exercises. The best of them ally form to function to terrific effect. There's genuine emotion, and
Diane Webber-thrush
I just finished "Break It Down" in the collected stories and I am hooked. I can't believe I hadn't heard of Lydia Davis before. So happy to have this reco from the Barnard In Washington book club. I might actually make it to my first book club meeting (it's set for September).
Garrett Peace
Jul 15, 2014 Garrett Peace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actual rating: 4.5

An impressive and unique collection, for sure. I may not have LOVED it, but Davis is an incredible writer, and all of these pieces show a command of tone and word choice that is all the more impressive considering this is her debut. Like small anecdotes told by a poet. It all appears quite simple, but the way a single word or phrase can make a single story into something profound/hilarious//heartbreaking reveals the care Davis puts into her writing and the depths that the small
Rita De oliveira
São 34 contos em apenas 200 páginas, alguns com apenas meia página, outros um pouco mais longos. Mas grande parte com um sentimento comum: uma imensa mágoa e incompreensão de mulheres sozinhas, trocadas ou simplesmente deixadas para trás. Recordações que vêm ao de cima perante uma espinha, ou perante uma peúga. Noutros contos, sente-se um enorme desconforto, físico ou mental, uma insatisfação permanente.

Lydia Davis foi casada com Paul Auster durante quatro anos, entre 1974 e 1978. E a coisa deve
Meg Pokrass
Jan 02, 2010 Meg Pokrass rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lydia Davis is a genius, and this can be read over and over and over and never gotten tired of.
John Lee
Nov 09, 2014 John Lee rated it it was amazing
This collection is filled with a unique brand of prose that seemingly puts economy and precision above all else. Things happen, thoughts occur, feelings are felt, and all of this is not expounded upon or detailed, just relayed. The choice of words is always straightforward, as is the sentence structure, and there is a notable lack of simile or any other literary device for a reader to hold on to and think, "That was a beautiful way to describe this scene," or "I have a very clear picture of what ...more
Oct 09, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
This book has been on my to-read shelf for ages because I was repeatedly turned off from continuing past the beginning of the first story, because the first story is a piece of Davis's later novel The End of the Story which made me kind of depressed when I read it on our honeymoon. Of all times to read that novel, on a honeymoon! It's the only sour impression I have of Davis's work, because I made the dumb decision to read a depressing book during a holiday that was meant to be even a better tim ...more
Jesse Field
Nov 03, 2010 Jesse Field rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These queer little portraits often make me grin silently -- probably I'm recognizing some aspect of my own personality, or else imagining that I am. (I know now you can be quite wrong about who you think you are.) First and foremost, there is Wassily:
He did not know exactly when to thank his hostess after attending a dinner or a weekend party. In his uncertainty, he would thank her over and over again. It was as though he hoped to achieve through the effect of accumulation what one speech alone
Jan Han
Jan 06, 2013 Jan Han rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Virkelig, virkelig god. 4 stjerner. Har lidt svært ved at formulere begejstringen uden alt for mange superlativer - og den tåler en genlæsning eller flere. En af den slags bøger, man lige kan læse lidt i en gang imellem, for at blive mindet om hvor meget man egentlig kan med ord.

Lydia Davis formår at bringe helt utrolig meget betydning ned i ganske simple sætningskonstruktioner. Samtidig er der ofte et postulerende/dogmatiserende sprogbrug i hendes tekster, hvilket naturligvis er bevidst provoke
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Lydia Davis, acclaimed fiction writer and translator, is famous in literary circles for her extremely brief and brilliantly inventive short stories. In fall 2003 she received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awards. In granting the award the MacArthur Foundation praised Davis’s work for showing “how language itself can entertain, how all that what one word says, and leaves unsaid, can hold ...more
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“The fact that he does not tell me the truth all the time makes me not sure of his truth at certain times, and then I work to figure out for myself if what he is telling me is the truth or not, and sometimes I can figure out that it's not the truth and sometimes I don't know and never know, and sometimes just because he says it to me over and over again I am convinced it is the truth because I don't believe he would repeat a lie so often. Maybe the truth does not matter, but I want to know it if only so that I can come to some conclusions about such questions as: whether he is angry at me or not; if he is, then how angry; whether he still loves her or not; if he does, then how much; whether he loves me or not; how much; how capable he is of deceiving me in the act and after the act in the telling.” 28 likes
“She was thinking how it was the unfinished business. This was why she could not sleep. She could not say the day was over. She had no sense that any day was ever over. Everything was still going on. The business not only not finished but maybe not done well enough.” 10 likes
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